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O'Donnell, Fielder, Brown, Tranel Win Contested PSC Races

Official seal for the Montana Public Service Commission
Montana Public Service Commission
Montana Public Service Commission

Montana primary voters held onto an incumbent and advanced new candidates in races for the board that regulates electric utilities in the state.

The closest race for the Montana Public Service Commission was for District 2 in southeast Montana, where incumbent Republican Tony O’Donnell of Billings fought for a second term against former PSC commissioner Kirk Bushman and State Rep. Daniel Zolnikov.

O’Donnell called it a tough race holding onto his seat of one term.

"Each one of them ran their own very strong campaign and I was impressed what they did and I just had to stay on my message ."

During his campaign, O’Donnell emphasized what he called his ability to listen to all sides on an issue. While he’s expressed doubt about climate change, he voted recently for a climate change forum to hear different schools of thought. The proposal ultimately failed. He’ll face Democrat Valerie McMurtry, a retired teacher from Billings, in the November election.

Republican State Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls won in western Montana’s District 4, where Republican Commissioner Bob Lake is terming out. She’s the CEO of nonprofit American Lands Council, which advocates for local control of federally-managed public lands. On her campaign website, Fielder writes that she seeks to advocate for ratepayers without over-regulating companies. She beat former Montana Republican party chairman Will Deschamps of Missoula and former state representative Champ Edmunds of Darby.

Fielder will compete with attorney Monica Tranel of Missoula in the general election. Tranel won the Democratic seat in the primary against environmentalist Daniel Carlino, also of Missoula. On Tuesday night after her win became clear, Tranel told YPR she received over 700 individual donations. She called it a true grassroots campaign.

"And what that tells me is that people really want to have professionalism and integrity restored to the Public Service Commission. And they want somebody who will walk in there on day one and know what to do and how to do it."

Another current commissioner, Republican Roger Koopman of District 3, is also terming out. Lawyer James Brown of Dillon will represent the Republican party in the race for the southwest Montana seat.

"I think that’s a really good indication that I’m connecting with the voter and that my message of having a commissioner who’s just a neutral and doesn’t have an agenda on the commission is resonating well," Brown said.

On his website, Brown writes he values a diverse energy portfolio, free market development and low rates. Brown will face Democratic State Representative Tom Woods, who ran unopposed.

The Democratic and Republican candidates will face off in the general election on Nov. 3.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.